Speaker at Hillsboro school safety summit lost daughter to gunman

When he walked in front of the crowd of roughly 300 school administrators, educators and law enforcement officials in the Century High School auditorium last Friday morning, John Michael Keyes asked who was in charge of school security at the Hillsboro facility.

A couple of school officials raised their hands.

Keyes was visibly disappointed.

“Let’s try it again,” he declared. “Who here is in charge of school security?”

Finally getting it, dozens of hands went up.

“That’s right,” Keyes said. “All of you are responsible. Every one of you.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: DOUG BURKHARDT - John Michael Keyes, co-founder of the Colorado-based I Love U Guys Foundation, came to Century High School on Aug. 9 to make a presentation on methods to prevent violent incidents at schools. Roughly 300 educators and law enforcement officers turned out for the event.

Keyes, this year’s keynote speaker at the annual Hillsboro School District Safety Summit, reminded educators and law enforcement officers of the importance of planning for the worst.

Keyes had a chilling story to tell those who attended the summit. A resident of Bailey, Colo., Keyes talked about his daughter, Emily. He explained that his 16-year-old was in her English class at Platte Canyon High School in 2006 when a lone gunman entered the school, claiming he had enough explosives to level the building. Emily and six other girls were taken hostage in their classroom.

During the time she was captive, Emily was able to send one text to her family.

“I love u guys,” it read.

Keyes provided a visual timeline of what happened when the gunman entered the school, explaining how he soon found out his daughter was in the room the shooter had entered. He reconstructed the 911 calls as the incident unfolded and provided the text of conversations between Keyes and his wife, Ellen, as they began to deal with the unfolding reality that their daughter’s life was in danger.

After a lengthy standoff, the gunman shot and killed Emily as a police SWAT team made an attempt to rescue the hostages. The gunman was also killed.

To honor his daughters’ life and her fierce spirit, Keyes co-founded the I Love U Guys Foundation; pivoting from the tragedy he experienced to try to prevent similar incidents. Working with school districts and law enforcement officials, Keyes’ foundation has created a standard response protocol to try to deal with school emergencies. Over the years, several thousand schools have adopted the foundation’s emergency procedures.

While at Century High School, Keyes pointed out that during a crisis, a locked door can provide enough of a barrier to save lives. And, in such a scenario, he advised teachers to lock classroom doors, turn out the lights and keep everyone out of sight.

“Locks, lights, out of sight,” Keyes repeated several times to drive home the point.

At one point in his program, Keyes presented a chilling five-minute video that flashed a fast-moving timeline with signs showing the dates and names of young people killed by violent incidents in various schools.

“This can happen anywhere. We are not immune in Hillsboro,” said Casey Waletich, director of safety and operations for the Hillsboro School District.

“The thing I like most about the (I Love U Guys Foundation) protocol is that it’s simple, accessible and can be used by everyone,” added Beth Graser, communications director for the Hillsboro School District.

Keyes pointed out that the specifics of the I Love U Guys Foundation’s highly-detailed standard response protocol can be downloaded from the foundation’s website,

Keyes said he wants the information to be readily available and easy to access, so there is no charge involved and the sites are easy to navigate.

Waletich said the Hillsboro School District is working to run drills using an active shooter scenario, but also focusing on what Keyes sees as the critically important aspect of reunifying students with their parents. Keyes believes a predetermined, practiced reunification method ensures that the process will not further complicate an already chaotic, anxiety-filled situation for law enforcement officers and other emergency responders.

The Hillsboro School District practices a lockout and a lockdown every two years, and the first drill employing the reunification method Keyes discussed is planned for next spring, according to Waletich.

Keyes said the entire community needs to pay attention to strategies to keep students safe.

“We have fire drills and teach kids what to do in a fire,” Keyes said. “But we don’t teach them what to do if they are under fire. It can’t just be school officials. It’s everyone together.”

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